2022 NAR President Leslie Rouda Smith Brings Optimism and a Passion to Inspire to New Role
The end of 2021 signals a new beginning for The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) leadership. Taking the reins this year is association veteran Leslie Rouda Smith, who’s been on a trajectory to lead the organization since before she even graduated high school. Here, Rouda Smith tells us about her plans for the year ahead.
Caysey Welton: Leslie, you’ve been in real estate for more than 35 years. Tell us how you got started.
Leslie Rouda-Smith: I often joke that I was conceived in real estate because my father, 1991 NAR President Harley Rouda, started his real estate company while my mother was pregnant with me. So I guess you could say I was born into the industry!
Dad’s company had many different divisions, and in high school and college, I worked wherever he needed me, including on the relocation side doing corporate calling.
In 1984, I moved to Texas where I joined Ebby Halliday Real Estate. I made more money in Ebby’s RELO department—and, more importantly, I can count her, one of the first female brokers, as my mentor.
CW: What do you consider some of your biggest professional and personal wins as a REALTOR®?
LRS: A big personal win for me was also instrumental to my professional growth. I used to be terrified of public speaking, and now I speak every week.
The turning point was when my dad asked me to give the invocation at his inaugural. I thought I’d have a heart attack over his request. In the end, my older brother gave the invocation. I felt like I let my dad down. I vowed to get over my fear, and sought training, feedback and new roles. Now, I always challenge my comfort zone. I consider myself “under construction” every day.
Professionally, I’m proud of starting the Texas REALTORS® Young Professionals Network (YPN), which got off the ground in 2016. YPN networks around the country help young real estate practitioners develop their business savvy and leadership skills.
I’m also proud of a Texas bill I actively lobbied for in 2017, which provided an increase in our homestead exemption, among other things.
CW: How has your experience as an active volunteer in the association for more than a decade motivated you to become president?
LRS: In my generation, and in my home growing up, women weren’t always treated equally. Luckily, I didn’t let attitudes like this stop me. In my career, I’ve sometimes been the only woman on a leadership team.
Now, I want to empower women and others who might not have had a voice. That’s why Team 22, as we call it, is so diverse.
CW: Given your deep understanding of the association, what do you hope to accomplish over the next year?
LRS: NAR is building on an ambitious slate of strategic priorities. We will continue to use the strength of the REALTOR® voice to advance our policy priorities, including private property rights, community development, and housing inventory and accessibility.
We’ll continue to expand housing opportunity through policies and programs that help our members provide equal opportunity to all homebuyers, enable more people to build wealth through homeownership, and foster diversity, equity and inclusion in our communities and within the REALTOR® organization.
We’ll champion our members as the consumers’ best source of information on the real estate transaction. And we’ll work to engage even more members, help support their business needs under new market realities, and educate our residential and commercial members about the unbelievably vast NAR benefits and business resources available to them.
Our members will also hear my three S’s quite often: sustainability, safety and strength. In fact, “sustainability” is an NAR priority for 2022. We must ensure our national infrastructure meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As our Code of Ethics states, “under all is the land.”
“Safety” is about helping our members protect themselves on the job, so that every REALTOR® comes home safely every night.
And “strength” is not only about capitalizing on our strength in numbers, but about focusing on our strength of mind and body. It’s important to keep our minds clear and open, and to put the right gas in the tank to keep our engines running.
CW: You’re taking on this role during an interesting time. The market is red hot, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about the economy. What do you see as the industry’s biggest challenges?
LRS: Certainly, the inventory shortage. Strong residential demand kept the housing market afloat during the pandemic, but it also deepened the need for more housing, which is critically underbuilt. This feeds into another big issue: the racial housing gap. By backing policies that enable more housing, more Americans from all walks of life can access the wealth-building benefits of homeownership.
Another factor piling on the inventory shortage is supply chain issues. Those are leading to long waits for materials. We have to factor that into project timing, especially with winter coming.
Additionally, interest rates are predicted to rise. NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun forecasts that the 30-year mortgage rate will average 3.6% in 2022, increasing from 3% in 2021, as the Federal Reserve Board begins to take steps to keep rising inflation in check.
CW: Do any of these challenges present new opportunities for your members?
LRS: Our members and our association have a unique opportunity to make a difference in closing the racial wealth gap by helping to tackle housing discrimination and expand homeownership in underserved communities.
There’s also opportunity for our members to better understand our increasingly diverse marketplace and to push for equitable policies at local, state and national levels. I encourage everyone to take three NAR Fair Housing training programs: Fairhaven, implicit bias, and At Home With Diversity—all available at NAR.realtor/fair-housing.
At the national level, NAR is pushing for policies that support an equitable and accessible housing finance system. Many creditworthy Americans can’t get approved for loans because credit-scoring models leave out common household expenditures. But these expenses can accurately predict a borrower’s ability to pay back a loan, so we support alternative, and more comprehensive, credit-scoring.
We’re also working to ensure that state and local governments have the tools to respond to natural disasters and build stronger, longer-lasting physical infrastructure.
CW: As somebody with your experience and institutional insights, do you expect 2022 to continue to stay hot?
LRS: It’s shaping up to be active. Dr. Yun forecasts that existing-home sales will likely hit 5.99 million in 2022, down slightly from 6 million in 2021. And home prices will rise at a more moderate pace, which is good for buyers.
Supply will continue to remain tight, but there will be a bit more inventory coming into the market, about 90,000 more housing starts in 2022, or 1.65 million compared with 1.56 million in 2021.
The rental market is also really heating up. But as rents rise and vacancies fall, that puts added pressure on people trying to save for their first home.
CW: Speaking of 2022, what has you excited about the coming year in your new role?
LRS: Our Leadership Team! 2022 is a historic year for NAR, as it will be the first time women make up the majority of the Leadership Team. A majority of our members are women, so it’s about time our leadership reflected our membership.
I’m a high energy person; I’m excited to lift people up. We’ve all been through a lot, and I believe part of my job is to inspire renewed energy.
I’m also excited to hear from our members. I want to better understand how to ensure more members know about the amazing business resources available to them from NAR, including the Realtors Property Resource® (narrpr.com). It offers access to detailed property information on 159 million residential and commercial properties.
Finally, I’m eager to see a return to civility. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: To listen more than we speak. Words matter; what you say could make or break your opportunity for referrals. Let’s work together to bring out the best in others.